NYC Community Partner Spotlight: Taisha Parkins, Director of Boulevard Community Center
The Sylvia Center’s Cooks for Health program teaches healthy cooking to youth, teens, and families in New York City Housing Authority community centers in all five boroughs. Our programs would not be possible without the support and engaged collaboration of the Community Based Organizations that manage the community centers where we work — including Grand St Settlement, Good Shepherd, CAMBA, and many others. So we are pleased to shine the spotlight this month on one of our program partners: Taisha Parkins, Director of the Boulevard Community Center in East New York, Brooklyn. From working on logistics and receiving deliveries, to recruiting students and planning events, Taisha is an invaluable partner in making our Cooks for Health classes come to life at Boulevard. As a Site Director, Taisha is always engaged with programming at her site, especially when it comes to our classes. We can always expect a visit from her in the kitchen to check in, take pictures, and ask the students what they learned that day.
TSC: How long have you been working with CAMBA? When did you take over as the Director at the Boulevard Community Center?
TP: I’ actually started working with CAMBA as a SYEP [ Summer Youth Employment] employee in 2009 but I was officially hired by the agency in 2013 so I’ve been working with CAMBA for 3.5 years and I became the Director of the Boulevard Cornerstone program in September of 2015.
TSC: As a Site Director, what kinds of programming do you look to provide for your students?
TP: As a Director, it is my goal to provide participants with the most innovative programs offered such as The Sylvia Center’s cooking classes. I try to find programs that include lots of hands on learning that teach participants valuable life skills they can enjoy.
TSC: What’s your favorite part of being a Community Center Director?
TP: My favorite part of being a Director is watching the participants grow. I love to hear my older participants speak about job and school opportunities and watch them influence the younger participants into making positive decisions.
TSC: Tell us a little bit about the Boulevard Community Center. What inspired the new theme for the program rooms in the building?
TP: Our theme at the Boulevard Cornerstone is “The Renaissance”. We decided on this theme because this year is all about the rebirth of culture at Boulevard. Our center has had a bit of a physical make over, which was long overdue, and we want our energy to match our new look. Currently, our classrooms represent different historical locations of the Harlem Renaissance as well as the art and music that came along with that time. Our rooms have been renamed with titles like: The Apollo, The Savoy Ballroom, The Cotton Club, and The Lenox Lounge. Next month, we will be redecorating and our classrooms will represent the European Renaissance.
TSC: Are there any new programs, events, or partnerships you’re looking forward to in 2017?
TP: This year we are definitely trying to put ourselves out there to build relationships with amazing co-locators such as The Sylvia Center. So far, we’ve made connections with Art programs and Basketball league opportunities that we will continue to explore and hopefully be able to have our participants partake in.
TSC: What does a typical day as a site Director look like for you?
TP:I wouldn’t say there is a typical day here. Every day is a different experience, sometimes with many unexpected hiccups, but we always make it through. As the Site Director, I try to keep a hold on the administrative part of programming without losing touch with what’s happening on site. On my early days, I come in and get paperwork done early so I can experience after-school with the staff and participants.
TSC: How did you hear about The Sylvia Center?
TP: I learned about the Sylvia Center through an activity specialist at another site who participated in the program. She had been holding onto a copy of the curriculum and raving about one of the meals she wanted to make at home. Once she briefed me on what the program offered, I reached out to you all to make the connection.
TSC: The Boulevard Community Center has a very strong core staff that work with the kids on a daily basis. How do work together to build such a strong sense of community in the center?
TP: Thank you! I think a big part of building a strong sense of community is getting the staff to be invested in the program. We have many staff meetings to keep everyone on the same page and as the Director, I try to build individual relationships with the staff so that everyone feels valued. We are also sure to reward the staff for their accomplishments and keep them on their toes with healthy competitions.
TSC: What challenges do you face as a Site Director?
TP: My biggest challenge as a site Director this year was starting the school year without a SACC [School Age Child Care] license because it really caused a lot of hardship on us. We lost many participants, partnerships and opportunities, but we are working to put it back together now.
TSC: What’s your favorite BCC story/memory?
TP: My favorite memory at Boulevard was our Role Play event between cops and kids. Our teens had the opportunity to act as police officers and the cops pretended to be civilians in the street. Both cops and teens were able to have an open discussion about what it felt like to be on the other side of the law and how it played a part in their interactions with each other. After the event, our teens formed relationships with the cops that are still relevant to this day.